Understanding Different Types of Back Pain

Back Problem Names

Back Pain / April 24, 2014

Types of Back Problems

Types of Back Problems

Pain is the most common symptom of back problems and if you suffer from back problems the most important one. It is important to distinguish between acute and prolonged pain, because they reflect different types of problems and different medical treatment needs.

Acute back pain is a warning sign of injury such as a sprained ligament, bone fracture, or disc herniation. During the first days after an injury, the pain tells the body to avoid movement that would aggravate the injury and slow or prevent healing. This is why the neck becomes stiff a short time after a whiplash injury and why certain movements cause or increase pain at the site of a disc or muscle injury. Prolonged or chronic pain is different. It is usually the result of minor misuse, injury, or strain over a period of time and many factors may contribute to the type or severity of pain that is experienced.

For example, excess body weight may place too much strain on the muscles that support normal alignment of the vertebral column as well as on the cushioning discs between vertebrae. An old injury may “flare up” occasionally. Or repetitive misuse such as improper lifting technique that is used daily on the job or at home may cause a weakening of supporting ligaments and muscles and a “nagging” lower back pain.

Lower back pain, in fact, is the most common type of chronic back pain, and may be attributed to such seemingly benign causes as poor posture over many years, lack of exercise, improper lifting techniques, and excess body weight.

Select from the topics below to get more information on problems associated with the spine.


Inflammation occurs when the muscles and ligaments are stretched beyond their normal capacity or elasticity, causing pain and inflammation.

Low back pain usually results from an injury to the muscles and ligaments of the lumbar spine, often due to lifting or twisting injuries. Stress and bad posture can also be contributing factors. Often the pain does not occur immediately after the injury, so the specific cause of the pain may not be apparent. Although back pain can occur anywhere in the back, it is most common in the lower back.

Many back problems are relieved with time and rest. Heat or ice, gentle massage, and acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin can help ease pain. Therapeutic exercise under the guidance of a physical therapist may also be helpful. Stronger pain killers or muscle relaxants are sometimes prescribed for “flare ups.” Although these measures help relieve back pain, recurring back pain is quite common. Preventive measures, including good posture, proper lifting, exercises to strengthen the back, and losing excess weight, may reduce the likelihood of future back problems.

Herniated DiscSymptoms of low back pain persisting beyond one month should be evaluated by a doctor. If you develop leg weakness or numbness, or loss of bowel or bladder control, you need to contact your doctor immediately.


Degenerative arthritis or osteoarthritis, commonly occurring in the back and neck, is the normal aging or “wear and tear” that causes changes in joints over time. It may result occasionally in low back pain or irritation of a nerve. Osteoarthritis is characterized by deterioration of protective cartilage covering the joints and the development of bone formations that can affect joint function. Symptoms may range from a backache at the end of the day to numbness in the legs when walking. Symptoms typically appear and progress gradually.

If discomfort persists, seems to be worsening, or is accompanied by numbness and weakness, your doctor should be consulted.

Elements of treatment may include:

  • An exercise program, focusing on range-of-motion and muscle strengthening
  • Losing excess weight to minimize stress on the joints
  • Heat and ice therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Surgery. Sometimes the arthritis can cause large bone spurs which put pressure on the nerves of the spine. These bone spurs may need to be surgically removed. Spinal fusion surgery is also sometimes used

It is important to see your doctor if:

  • Your symptoms are severe
  • The pain is keeping you from doing things that you do everyday
  • The problem does not go away within a few days

Call your doctor right away if you also have problems controlling your bowels or bladder, if you feel numb in the groin or rectal area, or if there is extreme leg weakness.


Whiplash is a common term for an injury that occurs to the cervical vertebrae and supporting soft tissues. The injury is caused by a sudden jerking, acceleration, or forward acceleration of the head with respect to the vertebral column. Most often cervical whiplash is associated with an automobile accident that produces a sudden and forceful forward or backward “whipping” of the head and neck.

Symptoms of cervical whiplash occur as a result of muscle and ligament sprains and strains to the cervical portion of the spine and supporting tissues in the neck. Common symptoms of cervical whiplash include:

  • Neck pain at the base of the neck that increases over time
  • Decreased ability to move the neck
  • Increased pain with movement
  • Muscle spasms in the neck

In some cases, there are no symptoms for hours to days after the accident. However, symptoms gradually appear and progressively worsen.

Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Visual changes, such as blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Increase in frequency, intensity and duration of migraine headaches

Your physician may include some of the following methods to treat whiplash:

  • Rest can enable the body to heal
  • A soft cervical collar may be worn to reduce strain on the muscles and ligaments of the cervical spine and decrease pain. If a cervical collar is prescribed, it should be worn as instructed
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen, or other anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed to decrease inflammation, reduce muscle spasm, and decrease pain. Muscle relaxants are sometimes prescribed for a short time to promote rest, reduce muscle spasm, and decrease pain
  • Physical therapy, including heat in the initial stages, then cold therapy
  • Isometric and range of motion exercises may be prescribed and a physical therapy consultation may be recommended

Source: www.csosortho.com